On breaking the rules…

One of the common comments that I receive from people who have attended presentation skills training, is that they are given lots of rules that they should be following. In fact, it is very often a list of do’s and don’ts.

For example:


  • • face away from the audience
  • fill your slides with words
  • hide behind the lectern
  • talk to fast
  • read the slides
  • look at the screen
  • use cliché’s
  • pace across the stage


  • face the audience
  • speak slowly and clearly
  • ask you-focused questions
  • use body language

But then as soon as they hear a good presentation, the speaker seems to breaks all of the rules.

I think that we are missing a couple point here. Firstly, the rules are not rules, they are guidelines. Now this is not a cheap excuse to discard everything because you don’t know any better. Ignorance of the law is no excuse! But, a guideline is there to guide you; rules are there to enforce your behaviour.

Secondly, rules are generally there for a reason. Simply put, they exist because they work! If you are an inexperienced speaker, and you are looking for some guidance, it is probably a good idea to follow the rules. They will make your presentation more effective!

However, experienced speakers constantly break the rules, but they do so with intent, and for specific effect. They do so knowingly!

Almost every time I have seen somebody break a rule without knowledge of the rule or without reason, it has backfired and resulted in a poorer presentation. However, when I have seen rules broken for specific reason, it has generally enhanced the presentation.

Go ahead and break the rules, but do so with intent!

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